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Station Partnerships Help Cover BP Oil Disaster

As stations situated around the Gulf of Mexico hustle to cover the dreadful BP oil spill there, an array of partnerships is helping local media get the latest news out to viewers. Stations are partnering with corporate siblings, affiliated networks and at times even unrelated stations to best cover the headline news stemming from the Gulf Coast.

There's no shortage of viewer interest in the story. "It's huge," says KPRC Houston VP/General Manager Larry Blackerby. "It's got a huge presence in our newscasts every day."

KPRC, for one, has been sharing content with its Florida-based Post-Newsweek siblings, including WKMG Orlando and WJXT Jacksonville, where interest in the big ooze is particularly keen. Other stations are sharing within the family too: Tribune's WGNO New Orleans is not only producing content for other Tribune stations to air, but the batch of Local TV ones, as the two groups share a third-party management outfit. Producers can grab the content off the MPLS network and put it right on the air.

WEAR Pensacola is sharing within its Sinclair group, and even with the occasional station that has a service agreement with a Sinclair station, says WEAR GM Terry Cole, such as WHO Des Moines. WEAR reporter Dan Thomas did a series of live shots for the partner stations June 2.

With strong stations in Houston and New Orleans, Belo is well represented in Gulf region. Stations cover their own local angles--Houston is the U.S. home to BP, while New Orleans has seen the likes of President Obama and Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano turn up in the greater region to assess the damage. Sister stations can grab whatever fits their content needs.

"It's not just a story that's of interest to people here," says KHOU Houston Executive News Director Keith Connors.

In the case of WVUE New Orleans, the Tom Benson-owned station is partnering with LIN TV's WALA Mobile. Both are Fox affiliates and both are directly affected by the spill. The two have been allies for some time; WVUE President/General Manager Joe Cook says the station was co-located out of WALA during Hurricane Katrina.

"We've teamed up on quite a few projects," he says.

Stations are also providing market expertise to the national networks, and enjoying some of the perks of the major media outlets, such as footage shot from helicopters and access to key figures. NBC News has a bureau, staffed by correspondent Janet Shamlian, at KPRC's headquarters. KHOU offered local viewers a peak at CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian's interview with BP CEO Tony Hayward in its early evening news last week just before it aired on CBS Evening News. "They've been great partners to us," says Connors.

Stations will continue to tap whatever resources they can find to best keep viewers informed about the ecologic--and economic--devastation the spill has spawned.

"With Katrina, we saw how much people depend on what we do," says WVUE News Director Mikel Schaefer. "We're not going to let them down."